The first outdoor concert of the 2021 season at the Smoky Mountain Event Center got rave reviews all around.

Amid the COVID pandemic, many indoor concert venues were closed and promoters found that moving the events outdoors was an ideal way to support musicians and keep staff employed.

Complaints from neighbors after the outdoor concerts were held last fall sparked a re-evaluation of concert rules at the Clyde venue just off I-40 and within earshot of three residential neighborhoods.

“I got feedback from two of the homeowners association presidents after the weekend concert,” said event center president Tommy Long, who is also a Haywood County Commissioner. “Both said the decibel levels were lower and our rules helped. They were appreciative.”

Major Jason Smiley, who works with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office and serves as an ex officio member of the events center board, said the office received hardly any complaints about concert noise over the weekend, a sharp contrast to calls that poured in last fall.

Long said he got two complaints, and one of the concerns was about having a concert in the middle of a pandemic. That one, he said, was a nonissue and was something that was addressed last year.

“The promoter met with Dr. Jaben (Haywood County medical director) last fall about best practices under the Governor’s order. They complied then and last night,” Long said. “Safety is the purpose of having a outside concert. We had no reports last fall of any cases traced back to a concert.”

The Friday and Saturday performances that opened the concert season were by Papadosio and booked by Asheville Music Hall. The concert drew a sell-out crowd last fall, and again last weekend.

As vehicles began streaming into the event center at 5 p.m., they sported license tags from Pennsylvania, Tennessee, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Georgia and as far as Oregon. The event was for the 15th anniversary concert of the Asheville-based group that bills itself as the “inspirational confluence of music, art, nature and technology.”

Tickets sold for up to $300 a vehicle with a four-person maximum, and there was an option to buy tickets for two additional persons in a vehicle. That was for the first row on the ground level, and prices decreased slightly for those parking farther back or on the higher tiers.

“There isn’t a bad seat in the place,” said Matteo Lamuraglia, staff manager for Asheville Music Hall, who was on the scene most of last week setting up for the event.

Just having the live concerts creates an additional online venue for those who are unable to attend in person but can instead live-stream the event for between $10-$15, depending on the band, he added.

Papadosio is one of the biggest bands in Western North Carolina and has a huge national following, he said citing the distances fans are willing to drive to see a performance.

The Smoky Mountain Event Center venue was one of several explored for outdoor concerts and turned out to be one of the top spots they found. Finding ways to support musicians during the pandemic has turned into a large national movement, he said, as he sported a T-shirt with the hashtags that have gone viral — #saveourstages and #supportlivemusic.

“Chris (Caldwell, event center manager) is amazing to work with,” he said, “plus it’s close to Asheville and right off the interstate. This brings national attention to Haywood County.”

The concerts start early to meet the curfew rules of 10 p.m. when school isn’t in session and 9:30 on nights when school is in session. Since many of the tickets are sold to out-of-towners, many stay in local accommodations and eat at local restaurants. The Asheville Music Hall website provides a link to available dining and overnight accommodations in the county.

“Asheville is a music destination,” Lamuraglia said. “Bands know it and now people know about Waynesville and Haywood County because people love this location.”

Future events?

The Papadosio event is the only concert Asheville Music Hall has on the event center’s calendar for now.

“At this point, we’re trying to figure things out,” Lamuraglia said, adding a lot depended on how the new rules worked out. “We’d like to do at least one a month.”

Even if COVID regulations change, the indoor venue can hold a maximum of 350, he explained. With an outdoor concert at the Smoky Mountain Event Center, a sold-out performance can accommodate 350 vehicles. At the standard four-per-vehicle rate, that’s tickets for 1,400, not counting vehicles that might want to buy extra tickets for up to two more.

Still, putting on the outdoor concerts isn’t as lucrative as it might seem, Lamuraglia said, because of the extensive set-up time and costs.

Long said the event center’s governing board spent a considerable amount of time this winter meeting with community residents and looking at the concert guidelines to come up with changes that could better address complaints and still allow a quality concert fans would enjoy.

“This isn’t a county ordinance,” he stressed. “It’s the Smoky Mountain Event Center board trying to be good neighbors.”

One of the homeowner association presidents recommended using an ordinance the city of Asheville worked on for three years when they were studying the noise ordinance. One committee member, Ben Wilder, has a brother who is a sound engineer and provided a map that addressed decibel levels based on distance from the front of the stage, Long said.

The allowable decibel levels are lower than other places around the region and are something not addressed in the county noise ordinance, Long said. The event center manager is to be on hand during concerts to check out the levels with a device purchased by the organization. Another change that will be implemented during the next concert event will be to reposition the stage so it points more toward the arena, Long said.

“Folks have done a lot of legwork on ordinances and realized there is a balance between the economic impact of putting on a performance like this and neighborhood noise. We’ve addressed those within our concert rules document,” he said.

Long said the rules are a starting point and noted there will be a learning curve.

“I hope we’re on the right track with our rules,” he said. “It looks promising, but we still can review and make adjustments moving forward if need be.”

Long spent time at the Saturday concert checking decibel levels in nearby neighborhoods — and mingling with fans. He told the event center board members Monday that fans reported no complaints about the lowered volume and said they were having an enjoyable experience.

Based on the successful weekend, the board green-lighted booking future concert events.

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